Bench Peyton? (10/08/13)

John Ewing, Director of Research and Analytics, @johnewing
Denver has a bye in Week 9 but the Broncos play the Jaguars this week. Should Denver treat this week’s game against Jacksonville as an additional bye and rest Peyton Manning?


 
Denver opened as a 28-point favorite over Jacksonville in Week 6. According to The Gold Sheet, this number ties the highest spread of all time, set by the Baltimore Colts over the expansion Atlanta Falcons in 1966.
 
The record tying spread seems appropriate considering the current state of both franchises. Denver (5-0) leads the league in yards/game (489.8), points/game (46), the next closest team is Dallas and they score sixteen fewer points on average, and is No. 1 in offensive passing efficiency. Jacksonville (0-5) is nearly last in every statistical category including averaging only 251.8 yards/game and 10.2 points/game. The statistics imply an easy victory for Denver but does the Predictalator agree?
 
After 50,000 simulations, the Denver Broncos beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 95.8% of the time. This is the highest win percentage ever generated in our NFL simulations. It breaks the previous record set in Week 3 when Jacksonville traveled to Seattle and the Seahawks were 95.0% likely to win. Given the high probability of a win for the Broncos, should Denver rest Peyton Manning?
 
Injuries are always possible and no other player is more important to their team's Super Bowl chances then Peyton Manning. When you consider Peyton's age and his recent injury (neck) history, would benching him really be a bad idea? So what would happen if the Broncos benched Peyton and started second year backup Brock Osweiler?
 
We simulated the game to find out. Note: the simulation assumes Chad Henne starts for the Jaguars but the difference between Henne and Blaine Gabbert are nominal.
 
Stats for each starting quarterback

Quarterback Passing Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
Osweiler 248.2 2.4 0.8
Henne 193.0 0.8 1.3

Osweiler has only attempted seven passes in his NFL career. His limited NFL experience does not impede him, Osweiler, the tenth rated quarterback in his draft class according to our projections, outduels Henne in this matchup. Denver’s quarterback of the future guides the Broncos to a win over the Jaguars. With Osweiler calling the plays Denver wins 85.8% of the time 26-13.
 
It may seem like the drop from 95.8% with Manning to 85.8% with Osweiler is significant but it is not. A win percentage of 85.8% would be the third highest win percentage generated this season. This is a testament to the offensive jugernaut (Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, plus a stable of capable running backs and tight ends) that the Broncos have built but also the resounding failure of the Jaguars.
 
So, should Denver bench Peyton? The question does not seem as absurd now.
 
Fun in simulations
 
Let's switch quarterbacks, Manning plays for Jacksonville and Henne/Gabbert play for Denver. What team wins the matchup in Mile High?
 
Denver would win 54.3% of the time 23-20.
 
The addition of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time is still not enough for the Jaguars to win. However, Denver should not be favored by 28 points over the Jaguars anymore.
 
Same simulation but we move the game to a neutral field, what team wins?
 
This time, with Manning and on a neutral field, Jacksonville pulls the upset. The Mannings, I’m assuming that Jacksonville would rename the team after Peyton, wins 51.3% of the time 22-21. 

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